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Richard A. Schwier University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada email: firstname.lastname@example.org Please cite as: Schwier, R.A. (2009, June). Pursuing the elusive metaphor of community in virtual learning environments. Proceedings of EDMEDIA 2009, Association for the Advancement of Computers in Education, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Abstract Social networking software sites are often mistakenly called learning communities, betraying a significant lack of agreement or concern for what actually constitutes a community. However, social networking sites are being used by teachers to engage students in dynamic ways, and by learners as vehicles for constructing their own, very personal learning environments and communities. This paper draws on lessons we have learned about building personal learning environments and virtual communities from our research and experience in formal and nonformal learning environments. It addresses the key questions of how can we construct, maintain and usher out communities, who joins communities, and what characteristics of communities seem to be shared across learning environments. The paper also questions whether the label “community” is actually a failed metaphor for something that seems to be much too dynamic and elusive to capture with a single construct.
In the Virtual Learning Communities Research Laboratory at the University of Saskatchewan, we have spent the past several years trying to understand what makes online learning communities emerge, grow and die away. Its ongoing research program has proffered and refined a model of virtual learning community (VLC) catalysts, elements and emphases that seems to capture some significant features of VLCs in formal learning environments. Recently, our research has turned its attention to nonformal and informal learning environments, calling into question whether the formal model holds any validity for broader definitions of learning, and whether in fact, community is a failed metaphor for describing the shape of activity that occurs when learners hold sway over the learning. In this paper, I will attempt to extract some of the key things we have learned, and offer a perspective on which characteristics appear to be robust in formal learning environments, which of characteristics seem to stand out in nonformal learning environments, and which seem to transcend environments, and also speculate about the challenges of building online communities when we move from formal, to nonformal, to informal learning environments. Because of the reflective nature of this paper, several of the ideas—particularly those about characteristics of formal VLCs—will draw on material previously published elsewhere to provide context, but I want to avoid being too selfreferential. For a more thorough treatment of these ideas, I direct the reader to a comprehensive list of our publications at http://www.vlcresearch.ca.
Distinguishing and Measuring Communities
The metaphor of community has been used to describe a wide range of social networks, both terrestrial and virtual, and in fact, there seems to be an inclination for anyone using a social networking site for most any purpose to refer to it as a community. Generally speaking, communities are collections of people who are bound together for some reason, and the reason defines the boundary of the community. A learning community emerges when people are drawn together to learn, so a learning community is a group of individuals engaged intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. Although learning communities emphasize outcomes in education, their power resides in their ability to take advantage of, and in some cases invent, a process for exchanging ideas and learning collectively. Virtual learning communities happen when the process of learning takes place outside the boundaries of facetoface contact, typically electronically. All of this sounds so nice and cozy on the surface. Communities are idealized; they conjure up memories of warm summer evenings, the dance of fireflies, and happy greetings exchanged by neighbors. Of course each of us conjures up somewhat different visions of community, but the point is that all of our conjurings are fictional. Few of us actually experienced the community we dream about, yet we have little trouble extending our imperfect visions to virtual learning communities. We assume that learners will want to come together, that they will be mutually supportive, and they will be driven to learn. But it is important to realize that communities, and particularly virtual learning communities, are not inherently good, desirable or ideal. For example, terrorist groups and organized crime exhibits many of the characteristics of a strong community, but few people outside of those groups would consider them to be desirable. Rather than describing an idealized state, community is a label for describing a temporary state of affairs; a context within which people encounter one another and negotiate the interplay of their unique yet related agendas. When technology mediates a community, the nature of interaction within the community inevitably changes. Yet, we understand little about how people in virtual environments are influenced by those environments. Does participation in online environments promote high levels of social engagement and support significant relationships among participants, or does it lead to acute social isolation (Kraut, Paterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukophadhyay, & Scherlia, 1998)? There is recent evidence out of Canada that online networking can actually increase participation in the community and in social organizations; online connections serve to support existing relationships (Veenhof, Wellman, Quell, & Hogan, 2009). But it also can create new types of relationships, deep and shallow, that were not previously available. Depending on the characteristics of the community and the intentions of the participants, communities may in fact be engaging and isolating at the same time. Perhaps it is a matter of understanding that mediated communication is fundamentally different from other types of interpersonal communication, and acknowledging that electronic communication, with all of its advantages and disadvantages, will influence the development of a virtual learning community. Ultimately we came to the conclusion that we needed a method we could use to provide a trustworthy measure of whether we actually had a community. Community is an elusive concept, but we needed to determine whether or not what we were looking at met some kind of criteria. We developed an elaborate methodology for examining the question and reported them as a set of approaches that could be used to measure and understand the characteristics of community (Schwier & Daniel, 2007). The categories of analysis included identifying a sense of community, isolating characteristics of community, comparing characteristics of community, and modeling community, and we mapped the methods of analysis we employed onto the categories of analysis we intended to conduct (see Table 1). The flow of analysis moved from first measuring the perceived existence of community by participants in the community. Then we attempted to isolate characteristics of community and determine the relative importance of the various characteristics. Finally, we built a dynamic model from the data that represents the interrelationships among variables, and that can also be used to project the effect on the community when the constituent elements are
Intention of analysis Identifying a sense of community: Did participants develop a sense of community? Did the group patterns of interaction suggest that a community might exist? Isolating characteristics of community: What characteristics of the online learning communities were manifest in the groups? Comparing characteristics of community: What was the relative importance of each community characteristic? Modeling community: How can the observed community characteristics be used to model the relationships among and influence of significant elements on community?
Method of analysis Sense of community indices Density and intensity of peripheral participation
Transcript analysis of online discussions, chat sessions and email Frequency count of characteristics Interviews with participants Thurstone paired comparison analysis
Bayesian belief network
Table 1. Questions and Associated Methods of Analysis for Examining Characteristics of Community in Online Learning Environments.
Model of a Virtual Learning Community
Using these analyses, we developed and tested a model of virtual learning communities, primarily drawn from research on postsecondary level courses offered as blended environments that were primarily online (see Figure 1). In this description, I will not elaborate the model in depth, but I will call attention to two things: its three concentric circles, and the elements identified in the outer ring of the model. The three concentric circles of the model suggest that communities exhibit a number of elements (in this case 13 we have isolated in our research to date) that interact within a group that emphasizes a principal intention or set of intensions. The interplay of elements will differ, we suggest, as the emphasis of the community differs. For example, a community of ideas may exhibit a different constellation of elements than a community that emphasizes relationships, but this is only speculation at this point, as we have not systematically studied interactions among elements and emphases. The inner circle, catalysts, identifies the central importance of communication in a community. It acts to initiate community, and plays out progressively as community develops and participants experience awareness, interaction, engagement and alignment with each other.
Figure 1. Model of virtual learning communities In our research, we focused on communities that emphasized ideas, and used the following definitions for our coding (see Table 2). Catalysts Awareness Social awareness Task awareness Concept awareness Workspace awareness Interaction Engagement Knowledge of people, tasks environment or some combination of these. Awareness that people have about the social connections within the group Awareness of how a shared task will be completed Awareness of how a particular activity or piece of knowledge fits into an individual’s existing knowledge Sensitivity to the context, and what is appropriate or inappropriate in a particular work setting Interplay or activity with others without deep engagement Confronting or exploring ideas, people and processes first presented by someone else in the group
Social Protocols Historicity Identity Mutuality Plurality
Rules of engagement, acceptable and unacceptable ways of behaving in a community. Communities develop their own community and culture. The boundaries of the community its identity or recognized focus. Interdependence and reciprocity. Participants construct purposes, intentions and the types of interaction. "Intermediate associations" such as families, churches, and other peripheral groups other communities that individuals use to enrich the new community. In the case of virtual environments, this may include physical/geographical communities. Individuals have the capacity and authority to conduct discourse freely, or withdraw from discourse without penalty. Social participation in the community, especially participation that sustains the community. The level of certainty or confidence that one community member uses to assess the action of another member of the community. The sense that the community is moving in a direction, typically toward the future. The role played by technology to facilitate or inhibit the growth of community. Formal or informal, yet purposeful, learning in the community. Learning related to central purpose for being in the community. Learning related to things other than the central purpose for being in the group Situating previous experiences, postings in current discussions, or grounding current discussions in previous events. Active engagement, open discourse, and a sense of importance or urgency in discussion, critique and argumentation. Individuals shifting positions or opinions to closer agreement
Autonomy Participation Trust Trajectory Technology/Technical Learning Process Intentional Incidental Reflection Intensity Alignment
Table 2. Codebook Definitions for Catalysts and Elements of Communities
Again, these are not discrete items that individuals can check off to build a community. Rather, they are undulating and varying features of communities we have observed. We found that different communities feature subsets of these characteristics or even defy some of them, but it does seem that some combinations of these elements carry influence in the structure and success of communities. For example when we compare the relative rankings of the elements of community we found in formal learning environments (courses) to the rankings of the same elements in a nonformal environment, there were similarities, but also considerable differences (see Table 3). In the long run, we can’t build a community; we can only help put in place the conditions under which a community may arise.
There is much we can do by attending to these features to promote the birth and growth of community, but we cannot force a community to happen. As an aside, the reader should note that the procedures for assigning relative rankings were different for formal and nonformal environments, due to changes in the research protocols for the two programs of research. In the studies of formal VLCs we used a forced choice paired comparison approach, and in the nonformal investigation we used frequency counts for codes in the data. Also, there has been only one study of a nonformal group to date in the research program, so these numbers should be viewed with a considerable amount of skepticism. Characteristic Trust Learning Participation Mutuality Intensity Social Protocols Reflection Autonomy Identity Trajectory Technology Historicity Plurality Ranking in Formal VLC 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 11 12 13 14 Ranking in NonFormal VLC 6* 3 5 9* 6* 9* 1 9* 4 13* 2 13* 6*
Table 3. Rankings of VLC Elements in Formal and NonFormal Learning Environments (tie rankings are marked with an asterisk *)
Some Conclusions and Speculations about VLCs
To date, this research program has generated as much speculation and theory as it has solid conclusions. This is the nature of grounded theory investigations generally, and we do not want to fall into the trap of generalizing our findings broadly to other settings. What we have learned overall is that VLCs are indeed elusive, and this is probably because they are so different and robust. If there is a failing, we think it is the use of one metaphor in the first place to attempt to describe a host of different learning environments that engage people dynamically in widely varying ways. We have repeatedly observed that a wide range of features contribute to turning a virtual gathering place for people into a virtual learning community. First, we have learned that building a community is not an organizational engineering task—rather, the challenge is one of motivating participants to create a community and giving them an opportunity to do it. Clark (1998) used the apt term “growing a community” in place of “building” or “constructing” a community to emphasize the organic nature of doing this kind of work. Ultimately, communities are built or dismantled by those in the communities, not by the people organizing or managing them. It is therefore a matter of providing an appropriate structure and sufficient support the conditions for a community to develop. The development of these conditions may employ some of the traditional processes of instructional design such as analysis, assessment, design and development, but it is important to recognize that these procedures provide only a starting point, not a prescription for developing a community of learners.
The amount of emphasis placed on community in a learning environment may be largely a function of the overall course design. Prescribed content is often seen to be what courses are about in formal learning environments, but responsibility and boundaries for content shift dramatically in nonformal learning environments. Learning might manifest itself differently depending on the context of the community in which it is created, such as whether communities are bounded or unbounded. Bounded learning communities are deliberately created in courses and they emerge in direct response to guidance provided by an instructor who acts as a subject matter expert. Instructional designers brought up in the traditions of cognitive psychology and models of ID often favor controlled and bounded environments over lesscontrolled, less predictable, and unbounded learning environments (Kenny, Zhang, Schwier & Campbell, 2004; Wilson, LudwigHardman, Thornam, & Dunlap 2004). But more recently, we have seen bold open learning initiatives that provide transparent, layered learning opportunities and exhibit features of both bounded and unbounded VLCs. For example, Couros (2009) described a course he created that offered layers of participation to thin the walls of the traditional university classroom. Students could register and participate in relatively conventional ways using videoconferencing technologies, but a wider audience could observe and participate in a backchannel simultaneously, and engage with each other and with the registered participants and instructor. Similarly, and on a wider scale, George Siemens and Stephen Downes offered an online course on connectivism theory as a credit course for a small number of students, but as a non formal learning platform for nearly 2000 students worldwide. The course featured daily updates, networks of bloggers discussing topic in the course, videoconferencing sessions, a course wiki and discussion groups using a variety of technologies such as Second Life to participate in the course. Downes coined the term MOOC, for massive open online course, to describe the intention of the course (Downes, 2009). These courses, and others that will inevitably follow, signal important shifts in the design of learning spaces, but also point to a philosophical shift from closed and bounded learning systems to open, transparent and egalitarian beliefs about learning. A leader or leaders heads the list of the structural and support systems needed for any community to grow. These people may act as facilitators, hosts, educators, managers, coaches or electronic gurus, but however named, they are essential to the success of a virtual learning community. The leader sets the agenda and the tone for the virtual learning community, and is the person known to all of the members of the community as the touchstone for protocol and administrative issues. For example, on social networking sites the leader could be the person whom members contact for information about uploading a profile photo or commenting on blog posts. This person might also intervene if a disagreement between members is monopolizing the list and suggest that the discussants move to a private area to argue. In a healthy and wellestablished virtual community, members of the community handle most "policing" of the community themselves, but the judicious intervention of a community leader can be invaluable. It is also critically important that support technologies become transparent and allow participants to concentrate on the tasks, relationships and ideas at hand, and creating a balance between content and community (Couros, 2009; Schwier & Dykes, 2004; 2007). The important distinction here is that in virtual communities participants are not just connecting with technology, they are connecting through technology. Using technology for interpersonal communication is foreign and unnatural for some participants, and as long as they are concentrating primarily on the technology, their likelihood of conducting normal discourse and developing deep connections with people is reduced. Anything in the system that emphasizes technology or makes technology a hurdle in the system is less likely to succeed. A safe and open protocol of interpersonal contact (either in 'cyberspace' or in person) is essential to building trust in a community of learners. Sharing and learning can promote dialogue only when there is group consensus about how
members will be treated within the community. People need to feel comfortable to participate, and unless the invitation to participate is explicit, and the boundaries of acceptable behavior are shared and understood, people will not be as likely to take risks in their communication with other members of the community. It is reasonable to publish written codes of conduct to keep communities on track (Bruckman, 1996). In any community, and noticeably in virtual learning communities, relatively few members conduct most communication. Quite a number of people “lurk” on the fringes of conversations. Eavesdropping is a reasonable activity for many community members. Even though they can be encouraged to contribute to the learning community, it is reasonable to expect that they will do so only when they are ready and feel the need. Who belongs to virtual learning communities? Certainly, membership in formal learning communities, such as university courses, is determined to a large extent by program requirements and course designs, and these groups will differ significantly from those found in nonformal and informal (voluntary) learning communities. A virtual learning community usually depends on the participation of relatively autonomous, independent individuals. In some nonformal and most informal online communities participants can not only leave the community, they can sometimes participate in the community without revealing who they are to the other participants. Autonomy and independence present difficult challenges for educators who want to grow and maintain a learning community. At the same time, communities depend on the interdependence of their participants for their survival. "The challenge for educators is to learn how to create a system in which people can enter into relations that are determined by problems or shared ambitions, and that are not overburdened by rules or structure" (Heckscher & Donnellson, 1994, p. 24). It is also essential for educators to acknowledge that much of the learning that takes place in online environments is actually embedded in the connections among people; without significant and unfettered communication among learners, most of the available learning will not happen. The urge to control and shape the learning environment has to give way to a stronger urge to encourage learners to explore, connect, share and find their own learning paths. Enough structure is necessary to give shape and facilitate communication in the community, but the members of the community should not feel constrained by the structure. It is important to control the growth of an online learning community in some settings, but equally important not to control the group if an authentic community is to be allowed to develop, and for learning to be maximized. Another thing we have learned is that people connect in dramatically different ways to learning communities. Their participation is not uniform, for individuals over time, or for all members of the group at any particular time. We see that learners may interact a great deal, but to little effect. Some may engage deeply, but not overtly. Some may engage overtly, but not deeply. In other words, participation does not equal engagement for learners, and while interaction is visible, engagement is hidden. Hudson and Bruckman (2004) identified similarities in how people participate online with a social phenomenon called the “bystander effect.” Essentially, the bystander effect posits that people are less likely to offer assistance in an emergency when they are in a group of people—that the presence of a group actively inhibits an individual from acting in an emergency. Hudson and Bruckman (2004) offer four mechanisms that seem to contribute and that may have corollaries in online learning environments: • selfawareness the presence of an audience inhibits individuals, who don't want to appear foolish for inappropriate. • social cues individuals actively look to one another for cues about how to behave. Inaction breeds inaction. • blocking action breeds inaction. When one bystander takes action, it blocks others from taking action.
diffuse responsibility in a group, each individual feels only limited responsibilities for the negative consequences of inaction.
These mechanisms may play out differently or similarly in online learning environments, but they provide a useful framework for examining the participation of online learners. One explanation for a lack of participation is “social loafing or free riding”, a phenomenon not unique to online learning communities, but one that has been repeatedly identified as a problem in the online learning literature (Piezon & Donaldson, 2005). But social loafing and free riding are associated primarily with formal learning environments, where the motivation to learn and the activities directing that learning are prescribed externally. As selfdirected learning increases, the opportunities and need for social loafing decrease, and what was once labeled as free riding can be seen as a different and more negative view of sharing. In every course we observed, there were periods when student participation in online discussions were so high and student feedback on the process of online discussions was so positive that standard terms such as ‘motivated’ and ‘engaged’ seemed tame. Our label for these incidents of active, dynamic, focused level of engagement led us to coin the “principle of intensity.” Learners want to be doing something important or saturated in a context that is moving them forward. Intensity can take the form of social advocacy, joyful learning, emotional connection and even having an association with someone who is considered important. But in online learning, content and community are also key ingredients for intensity. When individual learning, group learning, and input from the instructor are present, intensity can form and it can appear in both synchronous and asynchronous discussions. Trust appears to be the most significant single prerequisite factor in enabling vibrant communities to emerge. At least, without trust there is very little likelihood that an authentic community will happen. If participants share high levels of trust, they are more likely to engage deeply and take learning risks. But we see that trust takes time to build, and that some individuals are more willing to trust than others, so it is an elusive quality that can be promoted, but not imposed on a learning environment. Associated with trust is the idea of intimacy, and intimacy is necessary for the development of deep relationships and commitment to others and the community at large. One of the factors that can influence intimacy is the number and transparency of participants in any particular group. Allen (2004) identified Dunbar’s Number, which identifies the maximum number of people with whom we can maintain stable relationships. While Dunbar’s number is 147.6 for human beings (it is associated with the size of our neocortex), the actual number who can work together intimately and efficiently on discrete tasks in online environments is markedly smaller, typically between five and eight individuals. Allen (2004) described his sense of optimal group sizes in a post on his blog: In my opinion it is at 5 that the feeling of "team" really starts. At 5 to 8 people, you can have a meeting where everyone can speak out about what the entire group is doing, and everyone feels highly empowered. However, at 9 to 12 people this begins to break down not enough "attention" is given to everyone and meetings risk becoming either too noisy, too boring, too long, or some combination thereof. But Dunbar’s Number has interesting implications for informal groups that gather in online environments, where we see learners who have much larger social networks and seem to navigate them successfully. The functional size of a group seems to depend on the intentions of those involved for connecting with each other, and because groups are made up fewer people who are close and intimate, yet connected to a wider array of people casually and intermittently. How members of a group treat each other is important to their sense of community. An ethic of forgiveness seems to
permeate successful virtual learning communities. We think this is part of building a context that encourages risk taking and ultimately, learning. This was most often evidenced by individuals who would express concern that they had offended someone by attacking an idea that had been posted. Learners often replied by reassuring the person that no offense had been suffered, and that the criticisms were valuable in some way to that person’s learning. This observation has led me in my own classes to discuss the idea of forgiveness as a deliberate value we should adopt in our online conversations with each other. Another serendipitous finding from our research program has been that communities are resilient and they seem to have a natural inclination to spring from the ooze of learning. In fact, it appears that in some cases we have to do something to keep them from forming, and that something seems to be imposing too much control on the learning and learning activities. A social constructivist view of learning, in order to be successful, needs to emphasize a profound respect for the learner and trust them to make good decisions for themselves about their learning. Social networking as centerpiece reduces emphasis on prescribed content and encourages students to make decisions about content. We talk about doing this, and it has become commonplace rhetoric in education, but it takes courage to actually implement these values in learning environments.. Ultimately, we have concluded that virtual learning environments are every bit as “real” as any terrestrial learning environment. They can have the same impact on learning, but even more significantly, they can have the same emotional clout as facetoface learning environments. As we have pursued these research questions over a number of years, we have been impressed by how transparent technologies have become for many learners. Technology mediated learning environments are not considered as special or unusual by a majority of learners in higher education. Many see their media as natural extensions of themselves, and appear to confirm what Reeves and Nass (1996) observed a decade and a half ago and labeled “The Media Equation.” People treat their technologies like they treat other people; we are in an age where technological engagement and human engagement are virtually the same in quality and effect. We have also learned that learning communities have a lifecycle, and that it is remarkably organic. As groups come together and become to shift into something more intimate we typically see learners move through discussion to cooperation and collaboration as the learning community emerges. This formative stage in the life of a virtual learning community is characterized by the attraction of new members, and these members shape and reshape the personality of the community. The VLC may morph from what its creators first imagined into something altogether different. The purpose may change, expand or contract, and we see increasing amounts of social interchange among participants as they grow in comfort and as trust increases. If required to be members of a formal community, participants will be deciding how significant the community will be to them, how much of themselves they will invest in it, or how they can turn it into something they can use. In all, VLCs go through a period of testing, negotiating, and shaping, and the match between the purpose of the community and the importance of that purpose to members will determine the investments made by participants, and whether the group actually turns into something more intimate and powerful than a mere cohort. But ultimately, most communities will end. In formal learning environments the end often comes suddenly and predictably when a course ends. And this gives an unusual, and somewhat hypocritical message to participants if we take a cynical view of formal learning environments. On the one hand, we encourage learners to come together, to discuss important matters, to learn collaboratively, and to share openly with each other. Then, at a prescribed moment, we turn out the lights, suggesting that the need for engagement and the learning that has been promoted vigorously ends when the course does. In these case VLCs do not die a natural death; they are killed.
Another possibility is that the VLC enters a period of natural decline, a situation that is more likely to occur in non formal and informal learning environments. Ultimately, the death of a virtual learning community, or other similar organizations, may be good thing for everyone involved. It can allow organizers and members to move on to something else. There may be the rare virtual community that becomes so entrenched that it will survive without significant change, but most virtual communities face greater volatility. But everything we learned about VLCs from formal learning environments seemed to be put into question when we shifted our attention to nonformal learning environments. Much of what we understand about online learning communities and how they develop, grow and die away is based on examinations of formal online learning environments— primarily on postsecondary courses managed by institutions of higher learning. Formal environments typically require learners to engage each other online in prescribed, externally defined ways. As effective as formal environments may be, paying exclusive attention to them limits our understanding of the nature of learning communities. Nonformal learning environments, by contrast, impose fewer controls on learner activities and collaboration among participants is not required. There is a need to extend basic theory on virtual learning communities (VLCs) to elaborate our understanding of learning and pedagogical practices in nonformal online learning environments. This paper considers what we have learned about learning communities in formal and non formal online environments and speculates about how learners make use of social interaction to enhance learning. This research causes us to wonder whether “community” is an overused, overextended metaphor for understanding dynamic learning phenomena and social interaction, and also considers the pedagogical and research challenges nonformal learning environments present. We have begun to move our research program in this direction, and our preliminary findings suggest that nonformal environments may require intensive intervention to stimulate the growth of communities.
If educators choose to promote the development of virtual learning communities, a number of issues emerge. Some issues are financial and logistic—how does one assemble the technological, organizational, and personal systems necessary to construct and maintain a communication system? But the more important questions center on the design, implementation, pedagogy and effects of virtual learning communities, the socioeducational aspects of learning through this means of communication. This paper does not suggest that using technology to support the development of virtual learning communities will address the many challenges faced by schools and other institutionalized learning communities. In fact, it is quite possible that virtual learning communities will remain largely irrelevant to formal, institutionbased education or at least marginalized by school systems. But many people are already technologically literate, and many already participate in informal virtual learning communities outside institutionalized educational systems. Using the ideas inherent in community when we construct learning environments offers a way of using technology that is consistent with social constructivist approaches in education, and suggests that virtual learning communities can contribute to the way we respond to the challenge of building dynamic, engaging and authentic online learning environments.
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The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of research team members in the Virtual Learning Communities Research Laboratory at the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon to the research and ideas expressed in this paper, including Ben Kei Daniel, Heather Ross, Jaymie Koroluk, Kirk Kezema, Xing Xu, and Dirk Morrison. This research is supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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